By Wilson Asiimwe and Billy Rwothungeyo
Kasese airfield will be upgraded to an airport this financial year, according to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) manager in charge of upcountry air fields, Wonekha Sam.
Wonekha, who was meeting people affected by the project, said the CAA has already got a contractor to fence off the land as they wait for funds to begin the construction.
He said over $57m has been earmarked for the first phase of the project that is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of this financial year.
Wonekha added that CAA has also gotten involved in negotiations with people who claim they were poorly compensated for their land.
“Many funders globally have expressed interest in this project, including china, but we want to first settle the residents’ issues before we go on with the work,” said Wonekha
He noted that the airport will boast agriculture and tourism in the Rwenzori region, and asked locals to cooperate with the contractors to ensure that the project runs smoothly.
Kasese deputy resident district commissioner Aminadabu Muhindo warned residents against sabotaging the project. He urged those who have been compensated to vacate the land so preparations for the construction work start.
Out of the over 600 people who were compensated, only 100 have vacated the land.
CAA has always reiterated its commitment to the expansion of airfields.
“In Arua, we have finished the construction of the new terminal,” said David Mpango, the CAA deputy managing at last year’s airshow.
South African Airways general manager for Africa and the Middle East Aaron Munetsi counseled local authorities to invest in infrastructure to attract more airlines to the country.
“If you built an airport in the northern part of the country, it will be a success. Build the infrastructure and the people will come,” he said after a recent function by the airline in Kampala.
At the recent Routes Africa conference in Kampala, tourism minister Maria Mutagamba urged aviation authorities to fast track the upgrades of the airstrips to boost the tourism industry in Uganda.
“From the tourism point of view, we feel we should have more airports out there. We have few urban tourists, most of our tourists are eco-tourists, yet it takes six hours to drive from Kampala to Kidepo,” she said.
Transport state minister Stephen Chebrot agreed that the aviation facilities need to be upgraded, starting with the Entebbe International Airport, Uganda’s main gateway to the outside world.
He hinted at possible partnerships with private players to upgrade the airport that has since seen a surge in the numbers of passengers, from 700,000 in 2007 to close to 1.3 million passengers today.
“We have a 20-year master plan to construct the airport into a modern one. But that does not mean it (expansion) will take 20 years. If we get a willing contractor, we can even start next year,” he said.